Carlos "Patato" Valdes’s "El Hombre" is a CD by a very laid back Afro Cuban ensemble, led by one of the musicians who has shaped the genre. It has a very rich smooth sound as you may guess from the line up of featured artists and the groove laid down by his sextet.
Patato invented the easily tuned conga that is in use today in all of Latin jazz. Mr. Valdes not only uses his congas to set the rhythm but as a melodic instrument as well. On "El Hombre" Carlos plays his tunable congas, two, three, or four as fits his need as well as maracas congas and maracas. Patato is, in addition, a formidable multi instrumentalist with proficiency on marimbula, tres guitar, and bass. While he does not play these instruments on this recording the evidence of his melodic skill is apparent on each of these songs.
Carlos Valdes has been shaping Cuban music, including Afro Cuban, Latin jazz and son, since the 1950s and has played with people like Tito Puente and Herbie Mann. Now in his 70s he is a well seasoned percussionist, which to me means that he blends the percussion into tightly woven pieces of music. His playing doesn't dominate the music but is always there carrying you along. This allows Patato's featured artists to shine along with him.
The choice of songs seems just right for this musician and his band to showcase their talents, skill as an ensemble and skill as soloists. Patato uses interesting variations of pace and tonal color, however, this mellow album is an exploration of the softer end of Afro Cuban jazz's spectrum. Most of the cuts are appropriate for a relaxing afternoon or late meal accompaniment, rather then for a fiesta or street party. It is a good ambient album, but a little careful listening will expose some tasty riffs that, you might miss with casual listening.
All of the pieces that Patato has chosen are played with appropriate feeling and no sentimentality. It could be because with the exception of Paquito D'Rivera's Como un Bolero and John Coltrane’s Equinox, all of the compositions are played in an ensemble that features the composer. Phil Vieux, a very talented reed and sax player, contributed three compositions; Edsel Gomez, pianist contributed two; and Oriente Lopez, who sings through his flute, contributed two. The final piece, Reprise, which has no attribution, is I believe one of the most captivating on the CD. It has the feel of a live improvisation. The mood changes, sometimes radically, throughout the piece, yet displays a unity that indicates the musicians are in control, a unit and having a great time.
This is an album that you will be able to listen to time and again and I think it will probably improve with each listen.